The Melbourne Cup

Archer, with jockey J Cutts by Frederick Woodhouse Snr  (Credit:

We are the only nation on Earth that stops for a horse race and that race is The Melbourne Cup which is run on the 1st Tuesday in Novemember at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne. A Public Holiday is even declared in Melbourne to mark the occasion.

The first Melbourne Cup was run in 1861 and Archer won by a staggering 6 lengths.

And one of the early race days was recorded by Samuel Calvert (1828-1913).

The Spring Meeting of the Victoria Racing Club — The Cup Day by Samuel Calvert (Credit:

One of the most exciting wins occurred in 2015 when one of Australia's favourite jockeys Michelle Payne won on Prince of Penzance. Michelle was the first and, up until 2019, the only female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup - a remarkable feat.

One of Australia's favourite artists Anh Do painted Michelle Payne's portrait as part of his television series - Anh's Brush with Fame.

Michelle Payne with Anh Do and her portrait (

For many the horse race is irrelevant! Its all about the fashions on the field.

In 1965, British model Jean Shrimpton shocked Flemington by wearing a miniskirt. She also wore no gloves, hat, or stockings. The scandal is often wrongly reported as having happened on Cup Day - In fact it was Derby Day, three days earlier. But let’s not allow the truth to get in the way of a good story.

Not only were her knees exposed – but her legs were bare, she was hatless and gloveless! Yes, it was scandalous back then!

Jean Shrimpton (credit:

Fashions on the Field (FOTF) was first held in 1962 and hopeful entrants were enticed by a generous prize pool of 7,000 pounds and could enter in two categories; outfits under 30 pounds and outfits over 50 pounds. Back then, the winner’s main prize was usually a return trip for two to the UK - by sea.

Myer (a major Australian Department Store) came on board in 1983 as the major sponsor and in 2004, the introduction of the Myer State FOTF competitions brought excitement to the whole nation.

Some women plan their outfits for a whole year and travel the country to the various FOTF events. The first prize these days is a whopping $100,000 worth of goods. A shiny new Lexus car is the main attraction.

Everyone frocks up – those at the track don their finest – hats and fascinators abound and even the men get into the act.

Those in the invitation-only marquees live it up and mingle with the rich and famous, while the crowds enjoy a picnic on the grass or in the carpark.

At home and restaurants, elegant luncheons and high teas are arranged – chicken sandwiches and champagne the traditional fare.

This year like so many events will be quite different – maskinators will join the fashion stakes!


Let's get back to the horses though, as they are the real stars.

Just five horses have won more than one Cup. Makybe Diva has won 3 times (2003, 2004, and 2005), then Archer (1861 and 1862), Peter Pan (1932 and 1934), Rain Lover (1968 and 1969) and Think Big (1974 and 1975).

Makybe Diva wins her 3rd Melbourne Cup  (credit:

The stands were packed last year and will be empty this year, but that will not detract from the excitement leading up to Cup Day.

It’s the only race where everyone becomes an expert - studying the form guide and trying to guess who will win the big race. Millions of dollars in bets are placed and the nation will hold its breath to watch the winning horse cross the line in 2020.

2019 Craig Williams rides Vow and Declare to victory in the Melbourne Cup (Credit: Heraldsun)